Sarkozy’s investigation over campaign financing hands Qaddafi revenge from the grave

Sarkozy denies any wrongdoing and claims he is being accused without physical evidence.
Sunday 25/03/2018
A 2007 file picture shows then French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) and late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi during the signature of trade contracts in Paris.  (AFP)
New headaches. A 2007 file picture shows then French President Nicolas Sarkozy (R) and late Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi during the signature of trade contracts in Paris. (AFP)

LONDON - Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy is under formal investigation regarding allegations he received millions of dollars from the Qaddafi regime, returning the 2011 French-led military intervention in Libya to the spotlight.

Sarkozy, president from 2007-12, is facing allegations of illegal campaign financing, accepting bribes and the misappropriation of Libyan state funds. He was questioned by police over two days last week.

It is alleged that Sarkozy secretly received 50 million euros ($62 million) from the Qaddafi regime to help finance his 2007 election campaign, more than double the legal campaign funding limit at the time.

Sarkozy’s long-serving chief of staff and former interior minister Claude Gueant is also under investigation for his alleged role in the scandal. Brice Hortefeux, another former minister and close ally of Sarkozy, has also been questioned by police.

A French inquiry into illegal campaign funding from Libya was opened in 2013 but no names were disclosed at the time. Questions over Sarkozy’s role intensified after investigative website Mediapart published a report in 2016 in which French-Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine claimed to have personally delivered suitcases stuffed with cash from Libya leader Muammar Qaddafi to the Sarkozy campaign.

France’s ties with Libya improved following Sarkozy’s election victory in May 2007, with Qaddafi visiting Paris seven months later. During the visit, France and Libya signed several agreements, including Libya’s purchase of 21 Airbus aircraft and a nuclear cooperation accord. The value of the deals was estimated at $14.7 billion.

Sarkozy, facing criticism at home and abroad for Paris’s warm welcome of the controversial Libyan leader, said at the time that “France must speak with all of those who want to return to the road of respectability and reintegrate the international community.”

Sarkozy, 63, denied any wrongdoing and claimed he is being accused without physical evidence. He said his Libyan accusers are seeking vengeance for his role in the 2011 NATO-led military intervention in Libya, during which Qaddafi was killed.

In his court statement, Sarkozy said: “It was I who obtained the UN mandate to strike Libya [in 2011]. Without my political commitment, the Qaddafi regime would probably still be in place… How can anyone say that I favoured the interests of the Libyan state?”

Writing at the time, Libyan analyst Soeren Kern speculated that Sarkozy’s about-face on Qaddafi was based on his declining popularity ahead of the 2012 presidential elections and competition from far-right candidate Marine Le Pen.

“Sarkozy’s sudden zeal for the cause of democracy in Libya comes as his popularity is at record lows just 13 months before the first round of the 2012 presidential elections,” Kern wrote in a report for the Gatestone Institute.

“With polls showing that Sarkozy is the least popular president since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958, he is betting that French voters will appreciate his efforts in Libya to place France at the centre of the world stage,” he added.

Comments in March 2011 from Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, the former Libyan leader’s son, indicate that witnesses who could testify against Sarkozy are former Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi and Takieddine.

“Sarkozy has to give back the money he accepted from Libya to finance his electoral campaign. We financed his campaign and we have the proof… The first thing we’re demanding is that this clown gives back the money to the Libyan people,” Saif al-Islam told Euronews in 2011.

Sarkozy, in his court statement, sought to discredit Senussi and Takieddine as unreliable witnesses.

BBC Paris correspondent Hugh Schofield described the allegations as a “hammer blow” to Sarkozy. “The implications are devastating. If the charges are true, then the whole story of Sarkozy’s presidency will have to be reassessed,” he said.

“More importantly, what would it say about the French-led campaign to topple Qaddafi in 2011? A campaign in which the United Kingdom was persuaded by France to take part. Big questions — if the charges are true — but don’t expect any quick answers. This case could drag on for years.”